By Jacquelyn Reyes
I am a Dominican woman and I identify as that. But I also identify as an Afro-Latina. I know that I have African roots. Because of my coarse hair, because of my grandfather and Uncle’s dark chocolate skin. That’s what I grew up around. All of my friends were Black or half-Black or Spanish. I grew up in between Methuen and Lawrence Massachusetts, two very urban places. But thankfully, I was very sheltered. So whenever I came in contact with the terrible injustices inflicted against Black people, I knew in my heart of hearts that it wasn’t right and that I needed to stand up in this fight too. A lot of Dominican or Spanish people in general think we have it hard because we immigrated over here, and I’m not taking away from anybody’s struggle. Yes it is definitely hard being in a new land. But imagine being in a new land not out of your choice or your ancestors moving to a new land not by choice but because something of theirs was stolen or sold, and you are seen as less than others? I, personally, love and value everyone (natives or immigrants of all kinds) but I do think there’s a special connection that all immigrants and minorities share. That is why I felt so compelled to write this story. It’s a bit of an exception to the other pieces I read here, but I wanted to lend my voice to this growing body of work on movers and arrivers and appreciate you suspending your belief-systems for this slightly different “fiction” format. I love dissecting the human condition through metaphors and scenarios that reveal inner worlds and insights we don’t always display or witness in obvious or overt ways. Happy reading.
If I knew that last week was the last time I was going to see my boyfriend, there’s a thousand things I would have said to him like how much I love him and how much better he made my life, or what a kind and thoughtful person he was. There’s also a lot of things I would have left out like how hurt I was after he passed or how much his mother and I couldn’t really comprehend his senseless death. He was murdered out of convenience and that’s the sad part. He was simply Black at the wrong place.
All this is running through my mind as I climb step by step to the stage. I was chosen by our friends and his family to tell his story at this Black Lives Matter rally. As I reach the podium, I take a deep breath.
“Hello.” I stop briefly and I could feel the weight held in the silence.
I continue, “My name is Victoria DeLaFlor and the love of my life was taken from me, at the hands of two officers. His only crime was having melanin in his skin and not running fast enough.” I let the crowd sit with that for a second as I looked over the crowd seeing so many young black men. I see in their eyes the hard knowledge I have learned.
“I am here for my boyfriend, James Valentin, but it’s not just for him. I see in all your eyes the same fear I saw in his eyes and the same fear I know are in mine. Fear of making the wrong person mad and losing your life, or running a red light and losing your life, or simply passing the wrong house and….” I sigh, exhausted from this speech.
“We’re in constant fear of our lives, whether it’s conscious or not.” At this point I feel like I’m just repeating myself. “Wouldn’t you like to live in a world where, you, as a person of colour, could jog down the street in the middle of the day and not be hung from a tree! When will we stop being treated like slaves, like second class citizens?! Worse, when will we stop being treated like animals, lesser than animals!”
At this, the crowd roars so I start yelling, “ Many people treat their own dogs better than they treat people of colour! The animals have more rights than us now?!” I can feel my love for James coursing through my veins, ready to burst.
At that very moment, I see three police cruisers approaching. Two officers in each. They’ve come to shut us down, I can feel it. I glance behind me to where Cheryl, James’ mother is seated, cross-legged and patiently waiting. She gives me a little nod and a little smile, urging me to move forward.
I close my eyes and take a deep breath to gather my thoughts. When I open them again, I see that all of the officers are standing at the edge of the crowd. I rip my gaze from them as I speak, “I myself am a big fan of Hamilton. The play was phenomenal!”
The crowd roars with laughter and I can’t help but giggle.
“Alexander Hamilton owned slaves but he was against it. At many points he fought for them. George Washington owned slaves. When the founding fathers built this great nation, we were not included. Anybody with a little bit of darkening, a little bit of colour was not included in any of the rights that were written.
“And people ask why we are so angry!? Even when we were freed from slavery, we weren’t really freed! The 13th Amendment states that they can still enslave us within the prison system which is why so many of our prison systems are filled with black people!
“Two full communities that Black people have created, and it was taken from them, Correction, it was stolen from them!” I look at the officers and I can see the anger on their faces.
I go on, “And throughout all this all we’ve ever wanted is peace! We just want to be left alone to create the opportunities for our communities that no one else is giving us. And when we do make it, and when we are thriving, and when we don’t need anything else from the white man, this is when you leave us alone. Let us live in our riches. Do not tear us down!”
The crowd is yelling, screaming, cheering and I feel this insane rush. ” This is what the love of my life died for! This is what can come out of all the pain and suffering that his family, our friends, and I have endured. I have to believe in my heart that he died to move all of us forward!” I look around at all the cheering people and I can’t help what I say next, “My beautiful people of colour: Black, Latino, Latinx, Hispanic, Asian, African! It is time for us to all join together! It is time for a revolution!”
That’s when I hear it, one single shot fired and then silence. That is how they keep us down! When they’re scared, they shoot. They shoot to keep us down, and kill us. That is what I would have said if that gunshot, that fatal gunshot hadn’t come for me.
Jacquelyn Reyes is also American.